A new study* by Wireless Intelligence reveals that most countries in the European Union (EU27) are on track to meet deadlines set by the European Commission under its spectrum harmonisation initiative designed to speed up deployment of LTE-based mobile broadband across the region. However, a number of technical and political factors are likely to cause delays in LTE rollout in certain European markets.
The rollout of LTE in Europe is found to be highly dependent on the schedules set by governments and national regulators for the release of additional spectrum; the re-farming of existing frequency bands; and the phasing out of analogue TV services to free up spectrum in the so-called ‘digital dividend’ band. The study reveals that half of the EU27 countries have not yet put in place a timetable for the auction of digital dividend spectrum, while six countries are likely to fail to meet the Commission’s 2012 target for the switchover from analogue TV services. In addition, half of the countries also do not have targets to auction spectrum in the IMT-extension band. However, most countries have removed technology and service restrictions on the two existing 2G (GSM) bands – 900 MHz and 1800 MHz – making them available for 3G-based services.
Digital switchover/digital dividend (790-862 MHz)
Eleven countries within the EU27 have already switched off analogue broadcasting services. Ten plan to do so between 2011-12, while a further six will not do so until 2013-15 and will miss the Commission’s 2012 deadline. In a number of markets, local authorities are facing interference issues with neighboring countries in the 790-862 MHz band (Luxembourg, Malta, Cyprus), while some countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltics are required to negotiate terms with the Russian and Belarus military authorities, which use the 800 MHz band for air navigation systems. This band is also used for national security and defence purposes in Bulgaria, Greece and Poland. Other delays are caused by ongoing negotiations with providers of digital TV multiplexes, which hold licences in the 800 MHz band until 2014-15 in some cases (Spain, Slovakia).
Several countries have already expressed their intentions to set coverage targets for rural and remote areas (Denmark, Germany, France, Czech Republic) since the lower-frequency digital dividend signals can travel longer distances and help accelerate adoption of mobile broadband services in unconnected rural ‘white spots.’ By 2012, all mature Western European markets should have auctioned their digital dividend spectrum, our study found.
Spectrum refarming (900/1800 MHz)
Among the EU27 countries, only Lithuania, Cyprus and Hungary have not yet announced firm plans and timelines for the refarming of spectrum in 900/1800 MHz, the bands typically used for 2G (GSM) services. Fifteen markets have already implemented refarming policies while eight others are expected to do so between 2011 and 2014. In most cases, spectrum refarming depends on existing licence expiry dates; plans to allow new entrants; and licence extension policies. In some instances, spectrum restructuring is complicated by the fact that operators do not hold contiguous 5 MHz blocks (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania). In a number of markets, existing spectrum refarming takes place at the request of the operators (Austria, Germany, the Netherlands). In the UK, spectrum refarming has proved controversial as operators hold different amounts of spectrum in different bands.
IMT-extension band (2500-2690 MHz)
Six of the EU27 countries have already auctioned spectrum in the IMT-extension band. A further three are expected to auction it in 2011 and four between 2012-13. The remaining 14 countries have yet to announce their plans. In Latvia, the 2500-2690 MHz frequency band remains reserved for the provision of MMDS (wireless TV) until the existing legacy rights of use in this band expire at the end of 2013. In Italy, the release of spectrum in this band is subject to negotiations with the Ministry of Defence. In the UK, an upgrade of radars currently operating at 2700 MHz is required to permit widespread deployment of mobile or broadband services at 2600 MHz, and this programme is unlikely to be completed before the end of 2012.
Other regulatory issues
Among the other issues that may delay European rollout of LTE networks is the issuing of permits to install mobile antennas and base stations. In Spain and Luxembourg, for example, operators are still encountering difficulties for network deployment because of lengthy planning procedures and permit delays for installing mobile antennas, although the situation differs across regions and municipalities. In markets such as Belgium or Denmark, operators have to abide by stringent health regulations for electromagnetic fields which determine the issuing of building permits and can create complex situations.
In addition, political changes have led to delays in spectrum auctions, either due to the restructuring of regulatory bodies by existing governments (Bulgaria), or due to the election of a new government that has implemented changes in the remit of regulatory authorities (UK, Hungary). Nevertheless, most regulators are actively looking into facilitating the rapid deployment of mobile broadband networks often by coordinating spectrum and infrastructure-sharing (Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Sweden).
EU 27, LTE spectrum implementation deadlines and auction timetables
Source: European Commission Digital Scoreboard 2011, Wireless Intelligence
*: “The impact of European spectrum harmonisation on LTE network deployments;” (June 2011).
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